Is Kasich up or is Kasich down?

Sep 1, 2013

Odd, very odd.

Two public opinion polls, taken about two months apart, asking Ohio voters the same question: who would you vote for governor if the 2014 election were held today, Republican incumbent John Kasich or Democratic challenger Ed FitzGerald?

The first one, done by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute in June, had Kasich leading FitzGerald, the Cuyahoga County Executive, by 14 percentage points – 47 percent to 33 percent. In a poll with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percent, that is a comfortable lead.

The second one, done in August by Public Policy Polling (PPP), a North Carolina firm, had FitzGerald leading the Republican incumbent by three percentage points – 38 percent to 35 percent. With a margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 percent, that is not a comfortable lead, but a lead of any kind has to boost the hopes of a candidate like FitzGerald, who is virtually unknown to the average Ohio voter who does not live in the northeast corner of the state.

Quinnipiac had Kasich with a job approval rating of 54 percent, his highest since he took over the governor’s office in January 2011.

PPP had his job approval rating a much lower 42 percent, with 47 percent saying they disapprove of the job he is doing.

What is going on here?

Could Kasich have conceivably dropped that far that fast?

The Ohio Republican Party pooh-poohed the PPP poll, saying it is a polling firm that works for Democratic candidates and said the Democratic sample size among those polls was inflated.

But PPP made it clear that no Democratic candidate or organization paid for the poll. PPP regularly does independent polling in key battleground states like Ohio. PPP’s last poll of Ohio voters before the  November 2012 presidential election had President Obama winning the state by five percentage points. In the end, Obama bested Mitt Romney by about three percentage points. All within the margin of error.

Yes, the governor has taken some hits lately.

JobsOhio, the private non-profit he created to replace the Ohio Department of Development, has been under fire for being unaccountable to public scrutiny. News stories have detailed how members of the JobsOhio board are executives of companies that have benefited from state tax credits.

And the governor himself has taken fire for being paid deferred compensation in 2011 and 2012 for his service as a board member of Worthington Industries, a company he severed ties with when he was elected governor. But a recent AP story detailed how Worthington Industries has received at least $500,000 in tax credits from the Ohio Tax Credit Authority, on the recommendation of JobsOhio.

FitzGerald has been crying out for an Ohio Ethics Commission investigation, but the ethics commission says there is nothing to investigate.

Kasich’s been touting a 10 percent cut in the state income tax over the next three years – one that Ohio workers will see reflected in their paychecks starting this month.

But Democrats have been hammering at the other part of the state budget which raises the state sales tax, which they say hurts the middle class and the “working poor” the most.

Kasich has been pushing hard for Ohio to participate in Medicaid expansion – to the delight of many Democrats and to the disgust of many in his own party. It is not an issue, though, which appears to have harmed Kasich’s re-election chances in any way.

Kyle Kondik, an Ohioan who is a political analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, works with the Center’s director, Larry J. Sabato, on Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a closely-watched analysis of gubernatorial and congressional elections from around the country.

Early in August, Sabato and Kondik changed their rating of the 2014 Ohio governor’s race from “leans Republican” to “likely Republican.”

The PPP poll came out about two weeks later. It didn’t change their minds about a Kasich-FitzGerald match-up one iota, Kondik said.

“The Quinnipiac poll may be too positive, but the PPP poll is too negative toward Kasich,’’ Kondik said.

PPP may do private polls for Democrats, Kondik said, “but it has a good track record.”

But the closeness of the Ohio governor’s race reflected in the PPP poll, Kondik said, just doesn’t ring true.

“I don’t know that Kasich is going to blow him away in the election next year, but we see no reason to believe that he is not likely to be re-elected,’’ Kondik said.

Kondik said Ohio’s economy is “not as bad” as it was in 2010, when Kasich took out Democratic governor Ted Strickland; and Ohio has a history of re-electing Republican governors that goes back to 1958.

“If someone is going to get credit for the economy improving, it is going to be (Kasich),’’ Kondik said.

So the dichotomy between the two polls does not much impress the Crystal Ball.

As is often the case with extremes, the truth could well be somewhere in between.